Though Apple’s security-centric iOS 7 demo at WWDC yesterday may have been overshadowed by the glitzy, yet simple new UI and other more consumer-friendly features like iTunes Radio and a new multitasking experience, security is very much a big feature for the iPhone-maker. In the past, it was rumored that the “S” in the iPhone 5S name, a device that’s widely believed to be debuting this fall, would stand for security. It’s still unclear what Apple may have planned for the iPhone 5S, but here is what we do know about security in Apple’s latest mobile OS release:
1. iCloud Keychain
Apple is making it easy for users not only to be able to enter login information on websites, which is particularly useful if you do a lot of shopping on sites like Amazon or eBay where you may be required to enter a password with every transaction, but the company is also making it easy for users to create unique, complex, and secure passwords.
Typically, many users create one password that is used for Facebook, emails, banking logins, and other accounts. If a hacker is able to crack the password, the person can create serious damage and hijack all accounts belonging to that user.
As a result, one of the things that iCloud Keychain does is that when you’re registering for a new account or sign in online, you can tell iCloud Keychain to create a unique, complex password just for that site, and remember it. When you log in to the site, iCloud Keychain can populate the passcode information for you in mobile Safari after you’ve entered a PIN to validate yourself.
Additionally, Apple is also allowing iCloud Keychain to remember your credit card information as well, for quick checkout for digital shopping and e-commerce site. The only thing that isn’t stored here is your credit card security code, which will make the service more secure according to Apple.
2. The Birth of a New Digital Wallet with Credit Card Info
This moves Apple into the digital wallet space. Other versions of digital wallets being trialed at this time, including those like Google Wallet and ISIS, are focused on storing your credit card information for physical use at a retail store. Apple’s goal, at least at this time, is for e-commerce shopping.
Yet, despite their differences, iCloud Keychain could give birth to a separate Apple Wallet. Apple already has Passbook, which is used for more non-secure stuff, like boarding passes, movie tickets, vouchers, select gift cards, and loyalty rewards cards. iCloud Keychain could add a new service for Apple in the future, such as an iWallet or Apple Wallet.
In the past, it was rumored that the iPhone 5S would debut with a biometric fingerprint reader. The reader would be discrete and concealed behind the home button, and would allow users to more securely store their credit card information. It’s unclear if Apple would debut such a feature this year, but the connection is there for a more secure iPhone computing experience in the future.
3. Activation Block
Activation Block is a new feature introduced with iOS 7 that, according to Apple, will deter the growing thefts of iPhone smartphones. In the past, thieves who steal an iPhone would wipe the iPhone and free it from the Find My Phone tracking service that had been used successfully by many in the past to recover lost or stolen smartphones if they aren’t wiped.
Apple’s WWDC keynote presentation highlights the fact that you can still wipe your phone remotely if it gets lost or stolen, and if the device is stolen the thief couldn’t re-activate the iPhone once it’s registered as stolen thanks to Apple’s activation system.
This allows for security of the data stored on your iPhone as well as the security of the hardware as thieves who cannot activate or sell the stolen phone may no longer have any utility for the theft.
4. Automatic App Updates
Breaches of security are one of the more common things on a mobile device. Sometimes it’s a rogue app that had somehow invaded the App Store that was designed to steal your data. Other times, it’s about an unintended code that was not meant to be malicious. Whatever the case, automatic app updates will help devices stay more secure as users no longer have to update their apps manually to keep things secure. The most up to date, and presumably the most secure, version of the app will get pushed to the iPhone automatically in the background.
The iPhone 5S
These security features may or may not play a vital role of a fingerprint scanner coming to the iPhone 5S hardware refresh, but they do point us to a more positive direction for iOS. The features may also give hints to various explorations that Apple may have in store in the future, such as mobile wallets and e-commerce, as well as a broader strategy designed against smartphone theft. Whatever the case may be, a fingerprint reader may not be necessary, and if Apple deems the hardware as superfluous, it may not make it to an iPhone. If the company feels that the hardware adds tremendous value to the end user, we can likely expect to see it, or some variation of it, come to the device.